EASY COME

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16 (NLT)]

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. [Ephesians 2:8 (NLT)]

little bue heron“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” asks the comedian. “Practice, practice, practice,” is his answer. “Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work,” said Booker T. Washington, a man who truly knew the value of hard work. Most of us, having been raised with a strong work ethic, would agree with Washington’s words. If we want something we must work for it. If we want to be musicians, we practice; if we want to get on the team, we train; if we want a scholarship, we study. Success comes through determination and lots of hard work. We’ve heard all the maxims; there’s no elevator to success so we have to take the stairs. We know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, we must work our way up the ladder, and we’ve got to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Success is never handed to you and it’s only in the dictionary that success comes before work.

If we get to Carnegie Hall by practicing, the Olympics by training and Harvard by studying, how do we get to Heaven? What do we have to do? Here’s the rub—unlike just about everything else in the world, we can’t earn our way, practice our way, study our way, work our way or even buy our way into Heaven. All we really have to do is believe our way through those pearly gates but that just seems so un-American! Surely everything has a price—there’s got to be something noble we can accomplish, someone we can impress or bribe, some special words we can say, or a way we can pay to guarantee a spot. In fact, we’re just a bit suspicious of a deal that seems too good to be true. Surely, there’s a catch but, truly, there isn’t. Jesus paid the price long ago; all we have to do is accept His gift of salvation!

Religion is spelled ‘D-O’, because it consists of the things people do try to somehow gain God’s forgiveness and favor. But the problem is that you never know when you’ve done enough. But thankfully, Christianity is spelled differently. It’s spelled ‘D-O-N-E’, which means that what we could never do for ourselves, Christ has already done for us. To become a real Christian is to humbly receive God’s gift of forgiveness and to commit to following His leadership. [From “Becoming a Contagious Christian” by Bill Hybels]

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. [Acts 16:30-31a (NLT)]

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THE SCARLET CORD

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation. [Hebrews 11:1-2 (NLT)]

red roseRahab is one of the two women Paul lists in his “Hall of Faith.” This woman from Jericho married Salmon, was the mother of Boaz, a great-great grandmother to David, and one of Jesus’s ancestors. Oh—and she was a prostitute who collaborated with the enemy. Yet, Matthew makes specific mention of her in Jesus’ genealogy and both James and Paul speak highly of her in their epistles. Why?

From what Rahab had heard of the Israelites, she recognized their God as supreme. This perceptive woman anticipated Jericho’s defeat and judiciously aligned herself with the winning side when she protected two Israelite spies. After hiding them from the king’s men, she requested the same loyalty to her that she’d given them and negotiated for the safety of her family. As she lowered the men to safety on a scarlet cord, they told Rahab her protection was only ensured if she had that same cord visible on the day of their attack. True to their word, when Jericho fell, Rahab and her family were saved. Was it Rahab’s treason to Jericho that caused Paul to include her in his list or was there more?

After leaving Rahab’s house, the spies hid in the hills for three days before returning to camp and reporting to Joshua. After that, the Israelites broke camp and moved to the banks of the Jordan where they stayed another three days before crossing the river. Once across, the Israelites erected memorials to commemorate their crossing by God’s power. Four days later, the people celebrated the first night of Passover and, at some point, all of the men were circumcised. As the Israelites observed the eight days of Passover and the men recovered from their surgery, the invincible city of Jericho closed its gates and readied itself for battle. Meanwhile, Rahab had waited at least two weeks for the Israelites and her rescue. Did she begin to doubt the two spies and their God? Had she picked the wrong side to support? Did she consider bringing in that scarlet cord and making an alliance with a protector in Jericho? Was she tempted to lose faith in the God of the Israelites?

Eventually, the Israelites set off to conquer Jericho but they didn’t assault the town or lay siege to it. Instead, seven priests blowing rams’ horns led the Ark of the Covenant followed by 40,000 soldiers around the walled city before returning to their camp. For six days, Rahab watched from her window as the army silently marched around the city and then departed without lifting a weapon. Was Rahab’s faith shaken by this strange behavior? Were the men too afraid to attack? What kind of God used such a bizarre battle plan? On the seventh day, when she watched the Israelites parade seven times around the city, did she abandon all hope as she witnessed what appeared to be another day of even more pointless marching? Apparently not; that scarlet cord, the sign of her faith in the God of the Israelites, was still hanging from her window. When the army finally shouted, the walls of the unconquerable city collapsed and Rahab and her family were saved.

The walls of Jericho were leveled by faith in God. Rahab helped two strangers and kept that scarlet cord dangling from her window by that same faith. When God’s plan seems inexplicable or a long time in coming, do we exhibit a similar kind of faith? When things seem at a standstill, when we can’t see His plan, do we despair or do we hang out a scarlet cord of faith in God?

It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down. It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. [Hebrews 11:30-31 (NLT)]

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WATCH OVER ME

The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever. [Psalm 121:5-8 (NLT)]

mute swansIn his Small Catechism, Martin Luther instructs people to say the following prayer as soon they get out of bed: “God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit watch over me. Amen.” When I watch my grands, it’s not just keeping the baby dry and fed, getting the toddler to use the potty and take his nap, getting the kids to school, preparing their lunch, or making sure that homework gets done. Watching over them is more than just supervising them and keeping them from destroying the house. It means protecting them—from dangerous objects, people, and activities. It’s keeping them from getting hurt or hurting anyone else. Sometimes it means stopping them in their tracks and other times it’s removing something from their reach. Watching them is wiping their tears, laughing at their jokes, and kissing their ouchies; yet, it is still more. It is leading by example, introducing them to new things, encouraging them and challenging them to become stronger and better. It is walking and talking with them and opening their eyes to the world around them. It is correcting, helping, comforting, loving, teaching and nurturing them.

Thinking of what it means to watch my grands, Luther’s short prayer packs a giant request into a few short words. Guide me, convict me, protect me from sin and evil, keep me from harm and from harming anyone, defend me, sustain me, provide for me, inspire me, direct me, walk with me, guide me, guard me, encourage and calm me…all these and more are pressed into those three words “watch over me.”

God, like parents and grandparents, doesn’t go off duty when His children go to sleep; He keeps watch 24/7. Luther advises saying that very same prayer again at bedtime. After that, Luther instructs, “You are to go to sleep quickly and cheerfully.” When we know that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is vigilantly watching over us, we can rest in peaceful sleep, secure in His loving arms.

God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit watch over me. Amen. [Martin Luther]

I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me. [Psalm 3:5 (NLT)]

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. [Psalm 32:8 (NLT)]

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CLAIMING PROMISES

Tao New MexicoThe Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. [Genesis 13:14-15 (NIV)]

We were visiting an area church when the pastor referred to the above verse from Genesis in which God tells Abram (Abraham) he can have all that he sees. As the sermon continued, the pastor recited a litany of God’s promises and he seemed to be preaching a “name it and claim it” theology only, in this case, it was more like a “see it and have it” one. Granted, it was the first sermon of the year and the pastor clearly wanted to start 2018 on a high note. Nevertheless, claiming God’s promises and thinking they mean He’ll give me everything I visualize isn’t Bible-based.

Our faith and thoughts do not create our reality. If they did, among other things, I would be two inches taller, a whole lot shapelier, and without a wrinkle or any arthritis. Our faith doesn’t promise to give us what we want; our faith allows us to trust in a loving God who will give us what we need.

It is God, not us, who chooses when and how to bless us or, as in the case of Job, afflict us with trials. Job didn’t suffer for lack of faith; the man was filled with faith and yet he endured the loss of everything but his life. As baffled as Job was by his troubles, he knew that blessings and misfortune are not a measure of faith; the faithful can suffer and the wicked can prosper.

Not every promise made by God in the Bible is a wholesale across-the-board promise to us. That promise to Abram was a specific promise about a particular piece of land. God said nothing about seeing and having boyfriends, better jobs, new businesses, babies, healing, bigger paychecks, larger houses, or freedom from debt. Jesus came to save us from our sins and not from bankruptcy, infertility, illness, bad marriages, poor choices, difficult in-laws, unemployment, demanding bosses, or a host of other life challenges. Moreover, He calls us to sacrifice and deny rather than want and get.

Although God wants our love, worship, faith and obedience, He doesn’t need any of those to operate the universe. As Christians, we believe in the power of faith and prayer but we must remember the real power lies in God and His plan. We’re not God’s customers who can order what they see; we’re His children who thankfully accept what He gives us. Much of what we envision never will be ours simply because it’s not in God’s plan. When we become so intent on seeing what we want, we may miss seeing the blessings we’ve been given or different ones waiting in another direction.

I will continue to have faith and claim God’s promises—the promises of His presence, unfailing love, strength, wisdom, comfort, forgiveness, salvation, eternal life, the power of Holy Spirit, and the peace of God. What He hasn’t promised me is that if I see it, believe it or name it, it will be mine.

 Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want. It is the belief that God will do what is right. [Max Lucado]

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)]

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CHRISTMAS SPIDERS

spider webTo all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory. [Isaiah 61:3 (NLT)]

It was a web day at the bird sanctuary and I don’t mean the world-wide kind. It was one of those days when the morning dew, mist, and light cooperated in such a way that we saw beautiful intricate spider webs hanging everywhere. Looking as if they were made of strands of silver rather than silk, it seemed that the spiders had decorated all the trees in celebration of Christmas.

They reminded me of an old folktale that was read to me every Christmas. As I remember it, a mother thoroughly cleaned her house in preparation for Christmas and not a cobweb remained. All of the spiders fled to the attic lest they be swept away with their webs. On Christmas Eve, they heard the joyful noise of carols being sung and grew curious. Once the family went to bed, they all crept downstairs to see what the commotion had been about. Amazed by the beautifully decorated tree and never having seen anything like it, they crawled up and down the tree all night long as they admired every shiny ornament. Unfortunately, by morning’s light, the tree was covered with their gray webs and the ornaments were barely visible.

On Christmas morning, when the Christ child came to bless the house, He was surprised to see the spiders and their strands of silk covering the tree’s branches. Knowing how sad the family would be to see their once beautiful tree covered with dusty webs, the Christ child touched it. The spiders’ gray threads immediately turned into strands of silver and gold and the exquisite tree shimmered and shone more beautifully than ever.

I love this story and not just because it explains how the custom of hanging tinsel on a tree began. The Christ child, with His heart full of love, entered the home to bring a blessing for the family. Touching the damaged tree transformed it into a thing of beauty and, with that touch, He saved their Christmas celebration. Christ has a heart full of love for all of us and comes into our lives to bless us. When He touches our damaged hearts, like the tree, they’ll become things of beauty. We won’t look any different nor will we be adorned with strands of gold and silver but, once He’s touched us, our lives will be beautifully transformed. He doesn’t just save our Christmas; He saves our lives!

Our Christmas tree has no tinsel to remind me of Jesus’ miraculous touch. Nevertheless, every time I see a spider web glistening in the morning light, I remember how Christ has transformed my damaged life into a thing of beauty and give thanks.

The first gift of Christmas was love. A parent’s love. Pure as the first snows of Christmas. For God so loved His children that He sent His son, that we might someday return to Him. [Richard Paul Evans]

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. [John 3:16-17 (NLT)]

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DISAPPOINTMENT

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. [2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

OrchidPeople disappoint. Consider Moses’ disappointment when, fresh off Mt. Sinai after a 40 day meeting with God, he returned to find the Israelites worshipping a golden calf. Can you imagine David’s disappointment when Saul, the man he’d comforted with his songs, plotted his death? Picture Nathan’s disappointment in David when he confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba. Think of Joseph’s disappointment in the brothers he thought loved him as they callously sold him into slavery. Consider Jesus’ disappointment in the denying Peter, the betraying Judas, and His sleeping disciples. For that matter, consider the disappointment of the disciples as they saw their hope for the end of Rome’s tyranny die a criminal’s death on the cross.

People let us down. I remember back to 1974, when the Watergate cover-up began to unravel. My in-laws were deeply disappointed and saddened when the president they’d supported resigned in disgrace. Today, that sort of public betrayal doesn’t surprise us. Every day we learn of another betrayal of the public’s trust, abuse of power or lack of integrity. Manipulation, deception, and falsehoods are daily events. Nevertheless, when they’re done by someone we actually know—someone in whom we believed—we’re shocked and hurt. Recently, I’ve learned that people I thought I knew—people I trusted and respected—are not worthy of that trust or respect. That some others, knowing of their duplicity, have chosen to tolerate or gloss over it adds to my disappointment. Yes, people can let us down.

When efforts at rectification and reconciliation failed, my initial response was anger and indignation. That’s when the one most hurt by this betrayal of trust reminded me that I must always lead with love. Resolution is not possible, anger and retaliation are wrong, so forgiveness, prayer and grief are all that remain. With a forgiving heart, I will pray for both the betrayers and betrayed and grieve for what has been lost. Then, putting this disappointment behind me and trusting in God’s guidance, I will move forward into tomorrow.

It’s been said, “People will let us down but God never will.” Indeed, people let down Moses, David, Nathan, Joseph, and Jesus and they will continue to disappoint us. Jesus, however, never let down the disciples. Their hopes were briefly dashed when He was laid in a borrowed tomb but, with His resurrection three days later, they saw the end of sin’s tyranny and the beginning of life eternal. God will never let us down. As I lay my disappointment before Him in prayer, I know He will take my sad heart and restore it with strength, confidence, faith, and love. He will never disappoint!

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. [Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)]

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